Hervé Le Tellier ‘Toutes les familles heureuses’

It was at roughly the same age that, during a digression in an adult conversation that my mother had had an abortion a few years before in Switzerland..my mother…explained to me several times: she had done it “for me” . Guy would of course have grown attached to “his child” and neglected me, or even grown to dislike me. I found out, thanks to her, that I was responsible for the death of a little brother or sister and that I couldn’t trust dad.***

Hervé Le Tellier, The 2020 Prix Goncourt, tells us in this his 2017 book of his background, of his un-loving un-caring family that he knew he needed to flee, even from a young age to survive, unlike Sarah Chiche this is no psychoanalysis although his mother lies at the centre of the story and her relationship with firstly his always absent father who didn’t give him his name and his stepfather, who had never wanted him. An example of his mother’s lack of consequence is given in the opening quote.

Now that all of the protagonists of the book are dead, except for his mother, suffering from Altzheimer’s, He delivers this compact story on the unhappiness of his family, rendered possible by not facing the facts:

I understood quite quickly that you couldn’t believe anything my mother said. It’s not that she particularly liked lying, it’s just that admitting the truth was too much for her.***

A short, personal well written book which I enjoyed.

First Published in French as “Toutes le familles heureuses” by JC Lattès in 2017
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

C’est à peu près au même âge que j’appris, au détour d’un conversation d’adultes, que ma mère avait avorté quelques années plus tôt en Suisse….ma mère…me l’expliqua bien plusieurs fois: elle l’avait fait “pour moi”. Guy se serait évidemment attaché à “son enfant” et il m’aurait délaissé, voir pris en grippe. Je sus ainsi grâce à elle que j’étais responsable de la mort d’un petit frère ou d’une petite sœur et qu’il fallait aussi me méfier de papa.

Je compris pourtant vite qu’il était difficile d’accorder le moindre crédit à ce que ma mère racontait. Ce n’était pas qu’elle aimait particulièrement mentir, mais accepter la vérité exigeait trop d’elle.

Antoine Albertini ‘Malamorte’

Quai des Polars 2020: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 5

Sites to visit linked to this proud event unfortunately now cancelled.
Emma, Marina-Sofia and the official event site Quai des Polars In order to support this event, hopefully I’ll manage to write articles on all six of the short listed thrillers and propose my winner before the official announce on the 4th of April.

In order to reach the largest readership possible for this attempt, I have created a website to publish my six articles and to propose my winner ****in French*** please go to my French website and don’t hesitate to make it viral

For a week, Bastia was invaded by reporters from 24 hour news channels: Breaking news, Violence in Corsica flares up again, our experts will explain the situation on this island so different from any other. They questioned the same politicians as ever, the same specialists, the same auto-proclaimed conciences of an island that was losing its own.

The narrator and disillusioned anti-hero of this story, a once promissing inspector who’d made his mark in the Paris area drug squad had transferred back to his native Corsica. But Corsica with it’s mixture of violence carried out by the Corsican mafia “la Battue”, the independantists and their propensity for plastic explosives and political assassinations, the corruption of the political figures make it a place where “continental politicians” interfere sending in external police investigative task forces. So, our narrator after reacting badly to one of these investigators talking of his shit hole of an island and the assholes that live there, and breaking his nose, is relegated to being the only member of the Bureau of Single Crimes:

9 times out of 10 the circumstances are enough for me to close the case because the culprit has gone mad in front of thirty witnesses or filled the victims answering machine with death threats before stabbing her over and over again in the throat, the chest, the stomach and in the genitals. The murderers and the victims I have to handle are to be found amongst the drunks the halfwits, abusive parents, rapists, debtors that balance their account by beating their creditors with hammers, childmurderers pumped up with benzodiazepines.***

With this background, Albertini delivers a taught thriller with two initial crimes, as always seemingly not connected, firstly a Maroccan building contractor, Mohamed Cherkaoui, guns down his family and kills himself and then secondly a woman is killed and then raped with witnesses seeing what appeared to be a military person leaving the scene of the crime. The narrator is handed the first case, if you don’t want something discovered give the case to someone incompetent.

As the stories progress, the inspector, drinking his way through his own demons uses his knowledge of the island to meet people from all of the different groups on the island, such as The captain Janek from the Foreign Legion, present on the island, or Francois Massa, the business man that had been giving Cherkaoui his work and who tells him of Cherkaoui:

But his successful business had gone to his head and done so quickly. After a bit more than two years he had begun to send the commercial director packing and to answer the phone when he felt like it. I tried to reason with him but it was no use, a right numbskull. Typical of North Africans when the succeed. I’m no racist… — Whats more you’ve got a Maroccan house keeper. — No Portuguese. Why? — Forget it.***

If you want to discover a complex but well explained intrigue with an understanding of Corsica, you couldn’t do better.

First Published in French as “Malamorte” in 2019 by JC Latès.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Pendant une semaine, Bastia fut envahie d’envoyés spéciaux des chaînes d’info continue: Breaking news, regain de violence en Corse, nos experts décryptent la situation d’une île pas comme les autres. Ils avaient interrogé les mêmes élus qu’à chaque fois, les mêmes spécialistes, les mêmes consciences autoproclamées d’une île qui perdait la sienne.

Dans 9 cas sur 10, les circonstances se chargent de ficeler les procédures à ma place parce que le coupable a pété les plombs devant 30 témoins ou saturé de menaces de mort le répondeur téléphonique de sa victime avant de la larder de coups de couteau dans la gorge, le thorax, l’abdomen et les parties génitales. Les meurtriers et victimes dont j’ai la charge se recrutent parmi les poivrots, les demeurés, les parents bourreaux, les violeurs, les débiteurs acculés qui soldent leurs comptes en tabassant leur créancier à coups de marteau, les infanticides shootés aux benzodiazépines

Mais le succès commercial lui est monté à la tête. Et vite, en plus. Après deux ans et quelques de collaboration, il a commencé à envoyer balader mon directeur commercial, à répondre au téléphone quand ça lui chantait. J’ai essayé de le raisonner mais il n’y a rien eu à faire, une vraie tête de mule. C’est assez fréquent chez les Maghrébins qui réussissent. Je ne suis pas raciste… —… D’ailleurs, vous avez une femme de ménage marocaine. — Non, Portugaise. Pourquoi ? — Laissez tomber.

Quai du Polar

As we all know, or imagine, the book fair, the ‘Quai des Polars’ programmed for the beginning of April in Lyons, France has been cancelled this year. This fair concentrates on thrillers and for more background try Emma or the official website.

In order to do my bit for this situation I’ve decided to read and to blog on the six books preselected for the readers’ prize due to be announced on the fourth of April and to announce my favorite. Only 15 days left, can I do it?
I managed to find the pre-selected books on the official website, see below. If anyone is interested in joining in, please go ahead, I may even blog in French as well!

Malamorte Antoine Albertini (JC Lattès) 358 pages.
Ah, les braves gens ! de Franz Bartelt (Le Seuil) 263 pages.
Requiem pour une république de Thomas Cantaloube (Gallimard) 544 pages.
Le Dernier thriller norvégien de Luc Chomarat (La Manufacture de Livre) 206 pages.
Les Mafieuses de Pascale Dietrich (Liana Levi) 152 pages.
Après les chiens de Michèle Pedinielli (L’Aube) 224 pages.

Monica Sabolo ‘Summer’

Mother had put out a table cloth and layed a box on my sisters plate….My sister let out a cry of surprise as she unfolded the scarf,2D670B9D-EF27-49E3-81B3-FE3B8160C0ED whose bluebird seemed more alive than ever, then she stood and took my mother in her arms…… I had the feeling that I had watched a heartbreaking ritual, as if my mother had offered her youth and her beauty to her daughter.***

Monica Sabolo presents us a story of the disappearance one summer day soon after her nineteenth birthday, at a family party on the shores of Lac Leman, of Summer Wassner, in this story read for the “Roman de Rochefort”. As Benjamin, Summer’s brother, five years younger than her, years later, slowly unfolds the tale of the mystifying dissapearance of his sister from her ideal family, a dissapearance which utterly destroys his own life and that of his parents, we slowly realise that Benjamin is, despite himself, an unreliable witness, as he relates key moments of the story, such as his own frustration when his father buys an aquarium for Summer:

My father loved water as well….For her ninth birthday, he bought Summer an aquarium with a complex system to filter and to add oxygen to the water and which hummed continually…..two folding chairs were placed just in front , and that’s where I found Summer and my father, sometimes early in the morning, absorbed in watching an illuminated under water forest.***

We must remember that in spite of the maturity of Benjamin the narrator, at the time of the events, on Summer’s ninth birthday here for example, Benjamin was only four years old. He is nonetheless haunted by this day as we slowly realise from the dreams he relates to his psychiatrist which we initially assume refer to Lac Leman from whose bank she dissapears:

Summer is there. She’s wearing a blue night shirt, which floats around her like wings or fins, the smooth  oscillations of a skate.***

This story is narrated by Benjamin, after he suffers an unexpected nervous breakdown, as he says he has barely consciously thought of his sister in years. He is forced to revisit the unsolved events, talking to certain of the people present that day, Jill his sister’s closest friend and his own ex-lover, and his parent’s closest friend of the time, Marina Savioz. Benjamin is slowly brought to question his own certitudes of the idyllic life of their rich family living on the shore of Lac Leman. There are certain clues such as his mother’s  reaction when his father’s friends compare her to the pre-adolescent Summer:

“They look like sisters”,  called out dad’s friends, as they moved towards them on the loose gravel in light dresses, and mum blushed, pushing back a strand of hair which was coming loose from her poneytail…..It’s true that mother looked like an adolescent, with her lean look, the way she smoked, a certain tendency to provocation.***

As Summer moves into adolescence her relationship with her mother becomes, naturally, strained with the story of the scarf, illustrated in the opening quote, epitomising the rift, a scarf which has great sentimental value for Benjamin’s mother and which Summer is always stealing until one day she hands it over to Summer, only for Summer to no longer want it.
Slowly as the family secrets are stripped away by the different people that Benjamin finally takes it on himself to visit, he forces himself to see the secret he has been hiding from himself all these years.  He then confronts the inspector that had been charged with the case with something he remembered the inspector telling him years before:

“you once told me that you always find people eventually, they leave a trace, didn’t you?”
“Its true, nearly always, yes”***

This is a powerful well written story of loss, trust and betrayal I recommend it.

First Published in French as “Summer” in 2017 by JC Lattès.
*** my translation